LOS ANGELES—This year spring was marked by my first ever visit to Tomato-Mania, reminding me that it’s time to spruce up the garden and make new choices now that the drought is in the rear view mirror.

Coming from the east coast, it’s hard to acclimate to spring in early March. Every year something pulls my attention to the arrival of spring. This year it’s news about tomatoes.

As I pulled into Tomatomania at Tapia Brothers’ parking lot [address] there was a buzz in the air – people chatting and pointing. The exhibit space was lined with seeds and seedlings in 4 inch and 6 inch pots. There were plenty of look-e-loos along side serious gardeners, lots of questions and lots of knowledgeable staff on hand to answer all those questions.

Shopping for TomatoesHad Tomatomania been a museum exhibit, I would say the displays were well curated. The variety of tomatoes available was staggering. Each pot was labeled, listing the name of each variety; pictures of the mature fruit; what the growing conditions needed to be; and how many days each variety needed to bear fruit. Yup – tomatoes are fruits.

This was an “heirloom tomato seedling” event. “Heirloom” tomato? Is that the brand name for a line of tomato seeds? Not at all. It’s “heirloom” with a small “h.” So what’s the big deal? At Tomatomania, the tomatoes were all heirlooms, technically an open-pollinated class of tomatoes. Why does anyone care about this? It means that these are not “cross-bred,” where a plant is modified – say – to repel insects.

Cross-bred/hybrid tomato seeds may reproduce for 2 or 3 seasons, but after that they break down.  Heirlooms on the other hand are from seeds that have been and can continue to be harvested and replanted, and are true to their ancestors for 50 years.

Buried in all of this information about tomatoes is that the fact that different tomatoes have different flavors. If you want to bump up your cooking, you need to learn what flavoring each type of tomato will add to your dish. Tomato aficionados claim that store bought tomatoes have lost the “tasty” competition to the economics of “what looks good on the shelf.”

An amazing display at Tomatomania runs 12′ by 12’ showing pictures of the varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Names you’ve never heard of like “Black Krim” or “Captain Lucky.”

My prediction – spoon tomatoes will be a big hit. I’ll let you know in 65 days.